By Jane Palmer

Back Pain in PregnancyUnfortunately back pain during pregnancy is a common problem. There are a number of physical reasons for back pain in pregnancy, some of which include:

  • Pregnancy hormones soften ligaments causing joints to move more than usual. In some cases the ligaments can be strained.
  • Postural problems caused by the growing uterus.
  • Position of baby (particularly towards the end of pregnancy) can compress nerves and cause back pain.

You need not put up with back pain. There are a number of positive steps you can do to help reduce and sometimes eliminate the problem. Firstly it’s important to understand your body’s changes during pregnancy. Then you can implement some simple strategies to manage the problem.

Posture, Exercise and Rest

Good posture is very important. Avoid slouching wherever possible. To avoid slouching when sitting – place a rolled up towel or a lumbar cushion behind the lower part of your back. If your lounge chair causes you to slouch – prop yourself up with pillows. Other tips for proper posture include: keeping your shoulders slightly up and back, keep your chin up, your head should be centred over your shoulders, concentrate on using your abdominal muscles to slightly flatten your arch in your back (avoid exaggerating the arch in your back) and keep your knees lightly bent. Avoid high heal shoes.

Sitting straight up after you have been lying down can cause strain on your lower back. Some women find that by sitting up using the correct technique, they can eliminate back pain. When you are laying down simply roll on your side and use your arms to push yourself up. You may need to have your midwife or doctor show you this technique.

Exercise is also important. Strong abdominal muscles reduce the possibility of back pain significantly. Ask your midwife or doctor about appropriate abdominal exercises in pregnancy. If you are a member of a gym, ask a qualified instructor. Walking is a great exercise – a daily walk of 20 to 30 minutes can really help.

You also need to rest. Your need to rest will increase as the pregnancy advances. When sleeping at night, try sleeping on your side. A pillow between your knees will help. Some women purchase a body pillow to provide additional support. Though an extra pillow under your growing tummy will do just as well as the pregnancy progresses. See questions asked for further information.

I have heard women say they had bad back pain during pregnancy, what can I do to avoid back pain?

Back care is very important in pregnancy as it can help eliminate a lot of the discomfort women feel, particularly towards the end of the pregnancy. Probably the number one rule is to avoid bending over with your legs straight – placing excessive strain on your lower back. Pay attention to lifting techniques (no matter how light the load).  Squat down or kneel down to pick up objects off the floor, keeping your back straight.

Correct lifting is especially important if you have a younger child. If kneeling or squatting down to pick up your child becomes difficult, sit in a chair and get your child to climb up onto your lap.

When doing housework be particularly careful with vacuuming –  try lunging with your legs rather than bending your back. When hanging washing on the line – place the laundry basket on a chair so you’re not constantly bending down to pick up the clothes. Position your feet to face the task you’re doing and avoid twisting your upper body. If you’re carrying shopping bags – carry two light bags, one in each hand to even the load rather than carrying one heavy bag.

I am experiencing a lot of back pain in my pregnancy, what natural strategies can I try to alleviate the pain?

The first strategy would be to ensure that you are getting sufficient rest. You may find heat very effective at reducing the discomfort caused by back pain. Apply a hot pack or hot water bottle to the area – careful not to burn yourself. You could also try a nice warm bath or shower. There are various support gadgets available to help support your growing tummy. The most common gadget is a maternity support belt, which provides additional support for your back. Physiotherapists often recommend and fit maternity support belts. Another strategy is to do some strengthening exercises. The pelvic-tilt exercise is the most common exercise recommended. Ask your midwife or doctor how do this exercise correctly. You may find spending some time on your hands and knees will provide some welcome relief from the back pain. In this position you take the baby’s weight of your back. If pain becomes worse, be sure to consult your midwife or doctor.

Who can I see about my back pain in pregnancy?

Ideally first consult your midwife or doctor. They may be able to suggest some simple strategies or exercises that will help. If these strategies do not provide relief they may refer you to one of the following practitioners:

  • Physiotherapist
  • Chiropractor
  • Osteopath
  • Acupuncturist

These practitioners will assess the cause of your back pain in pregnancy and the treatment will vary depending on the cause.

My back pain is getting worse. I have tried heat and wearing a supportive belt. I am currently seeing a physiotherapist for my back pain and I heard about TENS. Can you explain what TENS is and how it works?

Transcutaneous electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is used as pain relief, particularly for chronic pain. Some women even use TENS in labour. TENS is ideal as a non-invasive way of managing back pain. A TENS machine transmits electrical impulses through electrodes that are applied to the skin. The sensation experienced is like ‘buzzing’ or ‘tingling’. The TENS electrodes would be applied to your back at the site of your pain. The electrodes are attached to wires that attach to the TENS machine itself. You control the electrical impulses – making them stronger or weaker as needed for your pain. You can hire or buy a TENS machine. Speak to your midwife, doctor or physiotherapist about the option of using a TENS machine.


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(27th June 2001)